Back in BA and other bits and pieces

Hello, hello! We just got back from a brilliant little three-stop tour in the northern half of Argentina. Now we are back in Buenos Aires for another week or so before it’s time to head off again.

It was great to get a break from the city. The majestic nature and fresh air of the places we visited just stunned me and got me feeling really grounded after the past weeks of city life. It’s a whole different side of the country and I’m glad that we’ll have the chance to see and experience a bit more of Argentina’s natural landscapes before we move on to our next country (Chile!).

On the flip side, it was also a really nice feeling to return to Buenos Aires yesterday. We arrived to a wonderfully sun-shiny afternoon, and that, plus returning to our familiar neighborhood and apartment with all our stuff (we only took small packs on our mini-trip) made for a lovely “welcome home”.

It’s going to be a busy week – on the to-do list are yoga and Spanish classes, getting to see as much of BA as we can fit in while we’re still here, and loads of prep for the next leg of our travels. Plus as much blogging as I can manage. 🙂

I’m heading to yoga soon but before I go here are some random bits and pieces…

Dancing in the streets

Our last night in Buenos Aires before we headed on our trip was just awesome. Among other things, we got to watch people dancing traditional folk dances at a square in the neighborhood in San Telmo.

The video doesn’t pick up the amazing vibe that was present; people were having such a good time, dancing with passion and without any self-consciousness and the music and movement gave me goose bumps to witness. We hung out for nearly an hour watching, getting explanations from a lovely, friendly porteño who would have danced tango with me if I had only had half a clue (he said he was an intermediate dancer – after “only” four years of practice – and that he was good enough to lead someone who knows a bit but alas, I haven’t learned ANY tango – yet… 😉 ). This dance isn’t tango, but one of the traditional dances from the countryside. Check it out!

Shopping and Spanish 

One day after yoga I took myself shopping. I’d been eyeing a scarf in a shop window on the way to the studio for two weeks and I finally worked up the nerve to go buy it. I also ended up picking up a few other things from another awesome boutique in our neighborhood.

Clothes shopping probably doesn’t seem that noteworthy, but it was exciting for me because 1) I managed to communicate in Spanish on my own for the first time! (usually Roman is with me and he does the talking for the both of us since he’s got a couple years worth of study on me) and 2) I love the fashion here in Argentina!

The second shop, where I got all the clothes, was a great, small, affordable boutique that carries pieces from Buenos Aires designers. (in case you are in BA and want to check it out – it’s called Ofhelia, at Sánchez de Bustamante 2007)

Here’s what I picked up.

The scarf that started it all…

Comfy maxi skirts!

Although the porteña seem to be dressing in somber colors for the winter, I definitely seemed to go for warm, summery hues.

I did pick up something less tropical and more practical as well – take a look at my new silly hat. It may make me look like a smurf (so says Roman), but I know I won’t care how I look so long as I’m warm during out next adventure – we’ve decided to take the plunge into full on winter and next week we’ll be heading to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world! I’m super excited about it!! 😀

And here are a few teaser photos from the past week – Iguazu, Salta and surrounding areas, Mendoza and the Andes! And now, I’m off to yoga! 🙂

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Cute fest!

For as long as I’ve known me I’ve been a sucker for stationery so it’s no wonder that I’ve gone gaga for the school supply store just down the street from our dorm here in Yangshuo. Just for the record, I love Asian writing supplies!!!

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Fruit, kitties and flowers!

I’m thrilled that we are taking classes so I have had a legitimate excuse to buy a bunch of new notebooks. 😀 Check out how cute these all are! I wish the store had one of those punch cards – buy 10 notebooks and your next notebook is free! I’d already be halfway to my freebie!

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Kitty is working out SO hard, victory will surely be his!!

(On a side note, we’ve already become regulars at a few places. Aside from the stationery shop, the general store on the same street (where they must know there’s a Chinese school close by cause they are fantastic at speaking slowly and clearly when they tell me the price of things) and the fruit stand with the cute grey and white kitten see us nearly every day. I’m loving the feeling of having a “neighborhood”. Yangshuo’s been really friendly to us and it’s so sweet to have folks wave and smile when we’re out and about because they already know us.)

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Perfect advice for me on this awesome calendar!

Back to notebooks – I’ll no doubt be back in the shop a few more times before we leave Yangshuo and am happy to take requests if you’d like a Chinese notebook for Christmas! 😉

My new (miraculously NON-food-related!) obsession

Not only Roman’s cold, but now pouring rain is keeping us from the Angkor temples – another perfect day for catching up on the blog and researching our next stop: Vietnam. 🙂

Here’s a post on something that’s become a bit of an obsession for me: Sarongs!

Most people associate sarongs with flowy, light-weight beach wear – a quick google search shows the same tendency. http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Wrap-a-Sarong

This is not the sort of sarong I am talking about. My obsession is with the traditional cotton wrap skirt that we’ve encountered all through Asia.

My obsession started in Myanmar, where this type of clothing is called a longyi, and both women AND men where it, albeit in different styles. With a little encouragement from my friend Ohmar, I started to learn how it was worn, and even bought an inexpensive acrylic version from the market in Bahmo. I couldn’t stop worrying about my technique though and was constantly nervous that the skirt, secured only by my inexperienced wrapping and tucking, would fall down at any second. After a couple of self-conscious wearings, I gave up and shipped it home.

My mother loves to quilt and I love to shop for exotic materials for her while I’m here in Asia. A couple of months after Myanmar, I was with my friends Juelle and Donovan at the weekly market in Ban Krud when some gorgeous cotton material caught my eye. I picked up one purple and one orange bit for my mom, only to discover when I got back to the hotel that they’d already been sewn up: the ends of the rectangular material are sewn together to create a tube of cloth forming a longyi or, as it’s known in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, a sarong! Always eager to play dress up with local fashion, I couldn’t help myself – I tried one on and this time it stuck. My wrapping technique still wasn’t great but the material was too pretty to be ignored. I kept one for myself and felt like a tropical goddess wearing it around, despite my fears of coming unwrapped! 🙂

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My second sarong/longyi purchase and the one that really started it all

This was the beginning of the obsession! The gorgeous colors and patterns draw me in; despite the fact that I am probably ending up with far more sarongs than I will every possibly need, still I have to pick up at least one in every country we visit. I’ve been practicing loads and am no longer scared of the skirt falling off while I’m walking around. 🙂 (It does happen sometimes that it starts to get loose – then I just do like the locals and re-adjust and fasten where ever I happen to be.)

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The sarong I picked up in Laos

Here in Cambodia, I bought an unfinished bit of material, and the friendly seamstress who sewed it up for me gave me some more pointers on how the locals work their wrap – check the photographic step by step guide below. 🙂

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My latest purchase from Battambang, Cambodia

As much as I love the sarongs for comfort and fashion reasons, the best thing about them is quite possibly the reaction they get from locals. They’re beautiful and make great souvenirs in my opinion yet I never see other Westerners wearing them, and from folks’ reactions, neither do they. Walking around in one inevitably draws stares, smiles, laughter and friendly comments.

In Ko Lanta I got thumbs up from local women, in Kratie I got a kick out of the old man who, after I was pointed out to him by a friend, emphatically exclaimed “Oh my God!”. Here in Siem Reap, a friendly young woman in a store I was shopping with told me how she loves to wear sarongs at home even though her mother makes fun of her for it (while people almost exclusively wear them in Myanmar and lots of women in Laos wear them, it’s much less common to see sarongs here in Cambodia, especially in younger people and less rural areas), and said it made her very happy to see me in one. 🙂

How to wear a sarong – the southeast Asia way

I’m sure there is a more accurate/articulate way to explain this but hopefully it makes some sense. As with most things, I’m finding practice makes perfect! 🙂

The ends of the sarong material are sewn together to create a tube:

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The sarongs I’ve bought are really long (and while I’m short, most Cambodian women we’ve met are even shorter!). I asked the seamstress if she could hem it for me but she said that’s not done. Instead, you can adjust the sarong by folding the top of the material until it’s at your desired length.

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Pull the sarong strongly to one side. Hold the material to your hip to create a crease, pulling the extra material strongly away from your body.

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Keeping the material secure at your hip with your hand, fold and wrap the extra material tightly around the front of your legs.

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Pull the top corner of the extra cloth out and up, against the inner layer of cloth.

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Tuck the upper corner of the outer cloth into the skirt. This is usually where locals stop; I like to tuck down the edges of the skirt for extra security! 🙂

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The finished product! Typically the women I’ve seen wear the sarong with their shirt tucked into it, as in the photo.

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Highlights from my second visit to Mcleod Ganj

Now that I’ve finally caught up on posting about the group trip, I’ll try to get up to speed with what Roman and I have been up to. 🙂

I loved being back in Mcleod Ganj. We ended up staying for a total of seven nights. It was a pretty leisurely stay; we didn’t end up doing half the things we talked about, but it was really lovely nonetheless. Here are some of the highlights from my second visit there:

The Dalai Lama’s teachings

Even though it made for a more hectic atmosphere during my last stay, it was cool that the Dalai Lama was in residence. We did manage to get the required documentation to attend his teachings in the end.

The teachings were held at the Tsuglagkhang Temple. We showed up after they had already begun on the first day. The temple is in a larger complex. At the main building, the actual temple is on the second floor, with a large space around it. Last time I visited, the monks were within the temple praying, and the space outside the temple had a good amount of Tibetans sitting to join the prayers.

This time, that whole space upstairs was reserved for special groups. We could walk around after the teachings and by the looks of things, the area was packed to the gills. We, along with hundreds of others (mostly Tibetans and Westerners) were able to hear the talks from the courtyard below the temple, via loudspeakers and one large screen television. His Holiness and the other monks who were giving instruction were speaking in Tibetan, but we’d been advised to pick up a small radio, on which we could pick up the English translation. Unfortunately the reception was really poor, so we weren’t able to catch much at all of what was being said. Still, it was really great to be there and to take in the atmosphere.

Seeing the Dalai Lama

Even better was my second time attending. Some of you will know, Roman is not exactly an early riser, and everyone had said for a chance to get a good seat and maybe see the Dalai Lama, you had to get there early. I’d been hearing the monks early-morning chanting from our hotel every day, and if nothing else, I wanted to be there for that, so on the last day of His Holiness’ teaching, I went by myself down to the temple at around 7am. It was lovely to be up and about that early, while the streets were still quiet and peaceful and there was still a chill in the air.

The courtyard was also comparatively empty when I arrived. After wandering around a bit, I settled on the ground, sitting comfortably against a tree, enjoying the people watching. A nun approached me; she was British and was explaining the morning’s ceremony to the English speakers who were there.

She was in the midst of talking about the blessing the Dalai Lama was going to perform when mid-sentence she gasped and said “His Holiness is coming”. In an instant, all talk in the courtyard ceased, and everyone bowed down as the Dalai Lama approached. It was still relatively empty, so I was actually quite close – probably 3 or 4 yards away from him. What was best about it though was seeing the impact his arrival had on the Tibetans there, how much it meant to them to see him, and the way he would casually stop for a quick chat with a person in the audience here or there as he made his way to the temple.

Making a friend at the temple

The ultimate highlight of the teachings though was meeting Tsering, a young Tibetan. After the Dalai Lama had come through the courtyard, Tsering came up to me to ask about the document the nun had given me, and we ended up having a long conversation. He’s a student, 19 years old. He and his family walked from Tibet to India nearly ten years ago. He was motivated to leave because when he met the Dalai Lama as a child, His Holiness told him to study hard, and there were no opportunities for him to get a proper education in Tibet. He is determined to eventually get his PhD and become a specialist in English, at which point he wants to put his skills to work for the cause of Tibet. He is already working on a book about Tibet in his free time, on top of all his studies.

What struck me the most was just how genuinely friendly and generous he was. He invited me to share the blanket he and his mother were sitting on; they shared their food with me (some sort of fried, crunchy, lightly sweet pastry); when the monks came round passing out steaming Tibetan butter tea (more like a creamy broth than tea) from huge metal kettles, he made sure I got served right away and got seconds.

Sitting with Tsering and his mother, I was in the middle of a larger group of Tibetans. What I loved most of all was the merging between the spiritual and every day life, which I had seen during my first visit to the temple during the group trip as well. As revered as the Dalai Lama is, among the Tibetans the atmosphere was more like a big group picnic than some religious event. Some of them were praying with malas or prayer wheels or listening to the speakers intently, but just as many were chatting and laughing together, eating and drinking, nursing babies, watching after their children – just normal every day stuff. I just loved how relaxed it all was, and how intermingled the spiritual and the “mundane” seem to be for the Tibetan Buddhists.

Tibetan “traditional” dance provides unexpected gifts

We’d received a flyer for a “Traditional Tibetan dance performance”; for 100 Rupee entrance we thought we would show up and take in some culture. The performance was at Tennor Restaurant – apparently it had only opened a week or so prior. There to meet us at the door was the same guy who had handed out the flyer – a young Tibetan named Dorjee with hair like a lion’s mane. Apparently this was a one-man gig – not only did he do the marketing and manage the finances, but he was the act as well!

The place was filling up, so we ended up sharing a table with some other tourists who ended up being just lovely. Ben, a young guy from Wales who had just completed some sort of autorickshaw race through India, Rob, a fun and talkative Aussie Buddhist who was on his way to Rishikesh for some sort of meditation course and Liz and Ben, an awesome Scottish mother who was taking her 11 year old son on a tour of India (husband was home in New Zealand with their younger daughter). It was great to have such good company for the show – which ended up being pretty amazing, nothing at all what we expected and a good laugh.

I don’t know what traditional Tibetan dance is really like, but I suspect that Dorjee was doing some sort of interpretive version of it. The guy had tons of passion, enthusiasm and energy and danced like no one I’ve ever seen before.  He’s definitely got strength, talent and guts, but when he started rubbing his sweaty brow on Robs shoulder, or grabbed a hapless tourist from another table, lifted him up till the guy was straddling him and started jumping around the restaurant, we just lost it. Really, words can’t do the performance justice!

The double gift was: Number one, the lovely folks we met because of it – ran into them again a few times around town and that was so nice. We were reliving our experiences with Liz, Ben and Rob the next day at the Green Hotel café, where we also met a family from America (never caught the parents’ names, but the sons were Miles and Ellis) who were also really nice. It was totally inspiring to me to see Liz and the parents from Vermont – I just think it is so cool that they were traveling for multiple weeks with their kids in some place like India.  I hope if and when I have a family that I will be such a cool parent. 🙂 Number two was discovering Tennor restaurant, which has a very sweet waitress and brings me to my next highlight…

Food

🙂 Have I mentioned, I love food? So, highlights in Mcleod Ganj were:

•The aforementioned Tennor restaurant. Their Indian food is not the best I have had since in India, but it is solidly good, and the garlic nan is the best I have ever had! 🙂 Their steamed vegetable momos are also the best that I had in Mcleod Ganj.

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•The chocolate cheesecake and Tibetan porridge with bananas at Green Hotel Café were the bomb! 🙂

• The food was basic, but eating breakfast in the sun every morning on the rooftop terrace at the Annex hotel was so nice. Was great to just sit there and take in the incredible landscape all around us.

Retail therapy

Knowing that everything I am traveling with has to fit into the limited space of my luggage, I have been totally restrained in my shopping during this trip. The last day in Mcleod Ganj though, I went a bit nuts and splurged on some bigger purchases. 🙂

First a sort of tunic top for myself and a super cute hoodie jacket for my nephew from a shop called Tamana. (They have a limited blog: http://tamana.over-blog.com/) Their tag is “A combination of Indian materials and spirit with a French touch” – a French woman created the designs and the high quality material is from a special Indian supplier; the company employs eight Indian and Tibetan seamstresses to make all their clothes. 🙂

Second was a painting by a Tibetan artist. We happened upon a small but awesome gallery called Peak Art, and I fell in love with the paintings by Ngawang Dorjee (http://www.peakartgallery.com/Ngawang.html). I ended up buying one called “Break time” of young Buddhist monks hanging out outside a temple; so sweet. The guy, Tashi, at the gallery was really nice and helpful. The painting is now (hopefully!) en route to the States; my sister will hold on to it for me until I have a home of my own again to put it in. 🙂

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Weather

It was also really cool to experience the change in weather while we were there. The first half of our stay we had nothing but sun, but gradually afternoon thunderstorms brought cooler temperatures. By the end, it felt like the night was coming earlier and darker. Our last day there were two great storms – the first was just thunder and heavy rains as we were making our way up to the waterfall outside of Bhagsu; the second was much bigger and longer, with about five minutes of hail in the middle – luckily we were indoors for that one! 🙂

Packing for the unknown

What do you bring with you when you don’t know where you are going, what you’ll be doing or how long you’ll be traveling?

This has been the fun mental exercise the past month or so. Roman and I spent probably a total of 8 hours picking the brain of the (very helpful!) assistant manager at EMS in my hometown with these and more questions which has helped me feel a bit more prepared. but I still feel like I’m doing one of those corporate training day exercises where they ask you what tools you’d take from your crashed plane to survive in the desert. For all the apparent logic applied, when you go round the room for the answers, inevitiably you find your judgement has led you astray and you end up with plenty of items that are totally pointless and missing something that would have really helped with your survival. While I’m not nervous, I am curious to see how our projection of what we need lines up with reality.

For my future amusement therefore, here’s an overview of some of the stuff we’re taking.

Travel nerd stuff (some, not all)

Eastern Mountain Sports Tech Wick T-Shirt (2)
Eastern Mountain Sports Tech Wick Long Sleeve Shirt (1)
Eastern Mountain Sport Compass Pants (1)
Eastern Mountain Sports Techwick Bikini Underwear(3)
Moving Comfort Alexis Sports Bra (1)
Naot Rachel Sandal (1)
Merrell Moab Ventilator (1)
Mountain Hard Wear Typhoon Jacket (1)
The North Face TKA 100 Long Sleeve Masonic Hoodie (1)
Stuff Sacks
Sea to Summit 100% Silk Lightweight sleeping bag liner
MSR Ultrasoft Travel and Sports Towel

We also picked up nifty Osprey packs – hope I end up loving mine as much as I think I will. And non-tech clothes, electronics, meds and some other bits and pieces haven’t made the list.

In case you didn’t catch that – that’s two pairs of shoes I’m traveling with. The options have gone from high heel, low heel, no heel, dress up, dress down, old school, new school, does it match my outfit or do I just love them to two: hot or cold. Makes me uncomfortable while being totally liberating at the same time. 🙂

Toiletries are also down to a minimum; my ego is currently in convulsive death-throes over the lack of multiple types of wrinkle-fighting creams, etc., but I suspect these will be forgotten pretty soon too. I was always a tom boy growing up. I’ve embraced the whole dress up, make up thing since I started at my first corporate job, but I really think it will be amazing to wake up in the morning, simply shower (when possible!!) and have breakfast and more or less be ready for the day. Like being a kid again. To be able to spend more time looking out at the world than thinking about how the world might be looking at me.

For comfort

One physical book, a novel in German I’ve been battling with for years now
Plenty of books and music and other entertainment in electronic form (a library of 50 books in the palm of my hand – saving grace!)
A guardian angel pendant from my mother
A small book of photographs of people I love
A silk scarf gifted by a friend years ago that will be making a return visit to India
My own pillowcases
A cloth easily-fold-able yoga mat
And of course my boyfriend (talk about a saving grace!)

I think that’s it. But I’m sure I’ll collect other things along the way. Hope it’s enough to help create home where ever we are.